Thursday, 27 May 2010

TwitterFEST and well, Twitter.

As suggested, I waited until 1.59pm yesterday before giving the kids the one hour of TV I limit them to when we're home. Then I grabbed my coffee and parked in front of the monitor for some serious tweeting.

The topic was how is Twitter helping writers? and I have a lot to say.

You see, I was tentative when I first signed up (it's my Twitter-birthday on Tuesday, woot). I'm not generally too tech-savvy and always worry I won't be able to figure things out. Including (read especially) the simple things. Being married to a computer-nerd has done nothing to help in this regard either, as when something goes wrong, I call out and he fixes it (because men like to fix things).

I recall a conversation I had with a friend ages before I signed up, where she insisted Twitter was the new facebook, or even better than facebook. Twitter was going to make facebook obsolete. Redundant. She couldn't understand why anyone would not want to be on there. Her feelings haven't changed much, as she's responsible for the inclusion of TwitterFEST in this year's EWF program.

Joining in a TwitterFEST discussion can feel awkward. I mean, what do you say first? Something of your own, reply to something someone else said, answer a question, maybe even retweet? Tweeps were doing any and all of these things, and my opener was to share something a friend (who I meet through Twitter, but is now also an IRL friend) once said to me. She likes Twitter because, by laughing with editors and publishers about things like what damage their cats had caused while home alone for five minutes, she was able to take them off their pedestals and imagine them as real people. It made them approachable and gave her confidence to take the next steps as a writer she needed to take (of course I said all this in just 140 characters yesterday).

Others agreed. A lot of tweeps also like the way Twitter encourages them to write in new ways, new styles that suit the medium. Like Twitter novels and Twitterfiction (which will be covered in an NMIT Professional Writing and Editing unit next semester). Some tweeps talked about works that were the result of collaborations formed through Twitter, some no doubt with tweeps who've not met IRL. And of course many like the way writing to a 140 character limit helped them refine their own writing.

Of course Twitter is a great platform for networking and hence, developing a potential audience. Although many writers don't seem to 'get' how this works (not the ones in yesterday's TwitterFEST). To use Twitter like this, you can't just log on and tweet details of your latest blog post, upcoming events/appearances/performances and/or the next title you're about to release. Sure, friends and family members who'll be interested in these things are going to take note. But no-one else. If you want other followers to care, you'll have to engage with them. In discussion. In conversation. In reports of what their cat did to the shower curtain while they ducked out for a litre of milk. Whatever. It doesn't matter what you engage in, and once the initial excitement of the 24/7 party that is Twitter has died off a little, be sure to set yourself some limits if you don't want it to eat away all your spare time. And make sure every update isn't a whinge.

But Twitter has meant more to me than any or even all of these things in the time I've been here. By this time last year, I'd spent five or so years trying to talk myself into writing non-fiction. I'd had a reasonable number of short stories published in various journals and my own collection released, I'd taken on poetry, I'd taught creative writing in a TAFE environment and after enough essays to earn me two degrees, you'd think I'd be able to do it in my sleep.

And so I'd try to convince myself every few months when it bugged me that it wasn't something I did. It bugged me that I lacked confidence and unlike my efforts when I sit to write fiction, every time I'd start something, I'd slam it down within half an hour, go make another cup of coffee and hide my 'effort' where it wouldn't remind me of my failings while I got on with something else.

But thanks to Twitter, I'm over it. Twitter helped in several ways.

For one, I use Twitter (and this blog at times) to keep me accountable. With Twitter, it can all happen so quickly. I can tweet that I'm going to write something before my brain works out what I'm saying and then I'm committed. I have to write it. Often this happens in an informal way, like I might say I'm going to spend 2 hours in the library writing. But once, maybe more, but once was enough, I told an editor of a parenting magazine that I was going to write a piece for her magazine.

A few weeks went by before I felt enough pressure to actually do it, but eventually I knew I had to write something. So I did.

When I sent it to her, she loved it so much she asked if she could forward it to the national publication. Who pay. To cut a long story short, they accepted it and the next morning I wrote another piece and now there'll be no stopping me. Sure, by this time I'd also been writing a few other bits of non-fiction with some success, but Twitter definitely played a major role.

There are other ways I find Twitter to be helpful for my writing too. It can help me work out what I should focus my writing on at various times, give me feedback on what parenting issues might be worth an article, and I'm part of a new writing group that formed through Twitter. Which was exactly what I needed to make me write more fiction, after non-fiction started to take up my few writing moments.

How has Twitter helped you?
What's stopping you signing up?

Monday, 24 May 2010

TwitterFEST and the 'Australian' novel

With the Emerging Writers' Festival introducing an online program this year, you don't necessarily have to be in Melbourne to take part (although I do recommend going to live events if at all possible, have been to two so far and have loved two so far).

Though it does help if you're on Twitter (which is easy).

This afternoon, while Dylan slept, I jumped into TwitterFEST to join the discussion "What is an 'Australian' novel?" I'm not sure I have an answer to this (do you?), although if I use their list of suggestions, I'm inclined to think an Australian novel is one written by an Australian.

There were certainly some interesting ideas presented, including whether novels are 'Australian' due to setting, theme/s, style and voice. Not to mention categorisation for awards where a requirement is that the story 'is Australian', but I'm not going there.

At some point the discussion veered towards diversity in voices of 'Australian' writing, and writers and I was asked to comment on my thoughts about same, given I'm reading novels by Aussie women only this year. Now, I'm not sure I'm qualified to say much given I'm only reading about 2 novels a month, and perhaps it has more to do with me trying to read them for pleasure than to pick them apart, but I'd say there is definitely variety in what I've been reading. I think this because I'm sure I'd put the next book down if it sounded or felt too similar to the last or another recent read.

As for short fiction, I feel confident to say there's plenty of diversity.

Though it occurred to me later that this is perhaps a reader's response and part of the reason the question caused so much confusion for me. Especially as compared to when I came to it as a writer.

As a writer, it all seems somewhat pointless as I'm going to write what I'm going to write in the style and voice that I write it in. It's going to be hard enough to score a publishing contract trying to do the very best writing that I can without introducing concepts that might make me think I should be writing according to a certain constraint, whatever that might be.

And despite the various awards scattered around the place, I find it hard to imagine that writers would really write with award criteria in mind.

Though please do let me know if you disagree. And share what your idea of an Australian novel is.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

bending the rules for brilliance

I was surprised by some of what I found out last year when I surveyed various journal editors and competition administrators (for this article). Including how lenient some editors actually are (though I'm not going to tell you which ones).

But the thing that surprised me the most was how many competition administrators or editors actually read a submission/entry that does not meet the guidelines before deciding whether to disqualify it. Except in the case where a piece might exceed the word limit, surely this decision should be made on the guidelines themselves rather than on the quality of the work?

I completely understand those who didn't feel they receive enough submissions to shortlist according to who followed the rules. But this is a blanket decision, everyone is treated the same. Not so for editors who admit to bending the rules 'if a piece is brilliant', and while it was certainly not the case for the majority of those I surveyed, there were enough similar responses to shock.

So I put it to you, as I seem to every year when page seventeen's submissions are open, what do you think? Do you expect editors/administrators to follow their own guidelines?

And, have you or anyone you know ever had a piece accepted when you know you failed to meet guidelines?

Thursday, 13 May 2010

the annual fight

It's that time of year when Bryden and I have our annual instalment of a long-standing argument. With evening temperatures way down in the single figures, I believe it's time to get out the winter doona.

Even with the winter doona on the bed, I'd need an extra layer on top, and then on the super-cold nights would carefully lie my dressing gown over the top before sliding between the sheets.

But Bryden insists we leave the summer doona on. He reckons with any more warmth than that, he gets too hot and dehydrated. He argues that I can easily use layers and my hot water bottle (or him) to keep warm, yet he can't shed one layer if he's overheated.

The sad thing is that I know he's right. Not least of all because I tried enforcing the winter doona one year. So this year I might avoid starting the argument. I am pleased he hasn't complained about the flannellette sheets I snuck on last week, though I wonder what I might add to my current stack of layers.

It certainly helps make the idea of separate beds seem appealing. Although I suspect that as Dylan still sleeps in our walk-in-robe at 20 months, we wouldn't have space for another bed. Shame :)

Monday, 10 May 2010

my mother's day haul

I had a lovely Mother's Day yesterday. It began with a sleep-in and then the kids racing to give me cuddles and kisses before going to help Daddy make French toast.
While that cooked, they delighted in handing over their presents, pictured. One of the things I so love about creche is that even the littlies get to make something special for Mum. You can't see the yellow 'hands' on the edge of the card Dylan made in this picture, that helps explain how much he loves me. Nor the blue footprints on the back that I'm sure he loved making.
Claudia painted the cup at kinder, which says 'Mum's cup' as well as making the glittery card with all those tall, thin people, of which I am apparently the tallest (win). She also gave me the voucher book and I most look forward to cashing in on the one that says 'I promise to put my toys away.'
Hamish bought the notebook (and hand cream) at the school Mother's Day market and proudly told me it is for my poetry.
I feel so fortunate to have such thoughtful and kind children, especially when I think of the way their faces lit up as they watched me open the special things they'd made/chosen for me.
The rest of the day was great too, even though we spent it at home, as the tone from the morning's gift giving and cuddling hung around all day. I hope your day was as lovely as mine, whether because you were the spoiled mum or because you got to spoil a special mum in your life.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

a little May-hem

As a stay-at-home Mum I usually try to find a fair balance for parenting and my writer/editor needs and desires. This means I don't tend to write while the kids are in my care as well as guiding my selection of what events I will actually trek out for, particularly in making sure I don't go to too many all at once.

But in May, none of that counts. Much. May is the month I wait for, the month the family are given fair warning that they'll just have to take a back seat. And for good reason.

The Emerging Writers' Festival is on.

This has been my favoutite literary event since the year it began and I escaped responsibility for two amazing days of festival. In fact, in those early years it was relatively simple to go to almost all of the thing, as it lasted just one weekend. Now though, the festival lasts an amazing ten days and while this is fabulous in all the obvious ways, I have no hope of going to everything and have to go through the stress of choosing some events over others.

But I will definitely be hanging around the Melbourne Town Hall during the last week of May. Not least of all because I'll be hosting a panel on the Sunday at 10am called 'A short note on process' where panellists Myke Bartlett, Steph Bowe, Chris Downes and Mischa Merz will discuss Early mornings Vs late nights Vs quit your day job and just go at it. Are post it notes essential, should first drafts be longhand, and must a writer write daily? These writers talk about their creative processes: how and when they write, and what routines they have in place for working.

I'll also be at The Page Parlour at Federation Square on Sunday 23rd, 12-5pm where we get the bonus of being Stuck in a lift with Paddy O'Reilly and Mandy Ord. This is free and a great opportunity to check out different publications, so come by and say hello.

I also hope to get to a heap of other events too, including Peter Farrar's 15 Minutes of Fame on Tuesday 25th, Wordstock: AC/DC on Thursday 27th and The First Word on Friday 21st.

But there are a few other things going on in May too.

On May 15th, after Stopping all Stations in Nunawading to see Kristin Henry and open mikers perform, I'll be going to the Brunswick Street Gallery for a bridge for short attention spans, where 30 writers read in 30 minutes, from 7pm.

But before all this, I'm looking forward to this Mothers' Day weekend. We're taking my mum out for lunch on Saturday and I have no idea what's planned for me on Sunday, although I suspect sticky-date pudding might be involved. I certainly hope so.